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By Sarah Hapgood

Bengo’s flare-up at Farnol proved to be very effective. It shocked the other clowns so much that they were reduced to slinking around in the background like a terrified backing-chorus having to work with a particularly stroppy diva. Bengo confided to Adam that he had been genuinely angry. “I’m sick of them constantly criticising Bardy”, he said “None of that lot could cope with some of the things he’s had to cope with in life. They’d just keep wimping out all the time”.

Bardin though was magnificently indifferent to the other clowns. Emotionally, he had removed himself to a plateau far above them. He had more important things to think about. The main one being what to do next. He still had a yearning to sail north, but he knew that neither he nor the others wanted to get caught in that strange fog again.

Just before lunch, on the day after Bengo’s shouting fit, Bardin had gone into the dining-room, to “make some notes”. In truth, he was sitting at the end of the table idly doodling flowers and ships on a piece of paper, as he couldn’t think of any notes to make. He was pulled out of this reverie by a sort of rhythmic thumping going on overhead. It was as though large hailstones were assaulting the ship.

“Captain!” Toppy cried out, running into the room “There are worms everywhere!”

“What are you talking about?” said Bardin.

“It’s raining worms”, said Toppy “Come and see”.

Bardin climbed up the galley steps. The first thing he saw when he got to the top was what seemed like a large black cloud directly overhead in an otherwise flawless blue sky. Out of it legions of black worm-like creatures were raining down, “like meat being put through a mincer”, as Joby described it afterwards.

Some of the others were prancing through the weird shower, like people inflicted with a mad dancing disease. The shower stopped as suddenly as it had begun, but the boat was covered with the tiny creatures. Bardin plucked off his cap in despair and flung it on the deck.

Several of the worms were collected in a bowl, and now everyone was standing around the dining-room table, looking at it.

“I’ve never seen black worms before”, said Joby.

“And you don’t expect them to come out of the fucking sky!” said Bardin.

“I’ve heard of this sort of thing happening”, said Adam “In paranormal circles they used to be called anomalous showers. Usually it would be falls of fish, or stones, or blocks of ice“.

“Good job it weren’t stones or ice“, said Hillyard “That could’ve damaged the ship. Punctured ruddy great holes in it!”

“Instead they’re just messy”, said Tamaz, giving a frisson of distaste.

“We’ll get them cleared up”, said Bardin, and he ordered the other clowns to go and fetch buckets, mops and brooms. This they did with great docility.

“I’m starting to find THEM more unnerving than anything else!” said Joby.

Bengo went up on deck so that he could have the satisfaction of watching the other clowns working. He would stare pointedly at Rumble, who refused to make any eye-contact with him at all.

“He knows he’s gone too far“, said Joby, when Bengo rejoined him downstairs.

“I don’t even know why he said it”, said Bengo.

“He always was a sarcastic nit”, said Hoowie, who had been listening in on this “He once put it about, as a fucking joke, that I wore a wig!”

“I never knew that”, said Bengo.

“It must have been after you’d run off”, said Hoowie.

“Who’d want a wig like that?!” said Joby.

“Yes well anyway, I think we have far more important things to think about”, said Adam “Such as what happens next”.

“I know I’m gonna sound like a stuck record”, said Joby “But I think we should hang about here for a while. It’s bloody weird round here, but at least we don’t go falling into any vortices!”

The incident that happened that night though was more terrifying than anything that had happened in the vortex. Bardin woke up in the middle of the night to feel something constricting his throat. He was struggling to breathe, and sat up in his bunk gasping and fighting for breath.

“Bardy!” Bengo cried, on waking “Oh my God!”

He helped Bardin out of the bunk and across to the window, which he flung open. There was a foul odour in the room, like rotting eggs, and Begno thought that that was what was causing his partner to gag.

“Something was strangling me”, Bardin said, very hoarsely “I could feel its hands round my neck”.

“You will probably end up with some bruising on your neck”, said Finia, when he had finished examining Bardin in the dining-room a short while later “And your voice may not be good for a while”.

“Yeah I’d try and rest it if I was you, Bardin!” said Hillyard.

The others had all gathered round, and were standing looking at Bardin in concern.

“Don’t all stand there gawping at me like that”, Bardin snapped, his voice cracking under the strain “I’m not an exhibit in a freak show!”

“What were its hands like, Bardin?” asked Lonts.

“Small”, said Bardin “Small, cold and clammy”.

“I’m definitely doing a blessing this time”, said Kieran.

“In the meantime, you’re not sleeping in there again”, said Ransey to Bardin “Not for a while anyway”.

“No I’ll sleep in there next”, said Kieran.

“Oh what ARE you talking about?” said Joby.

“After I’ve done the blessing”, said Kieran “I take it you’re joining me?”

“No I thought I’d leave you in there on your own”, said Joby, sarcastically.

“I’m joining you too”, said Ransey.

“Me too”, said Hillyard.

“Anymore for anymore?” said Joby.

“When the night is over”, said Kieran “And regardless of what happens, I shall then lock the room and leave it empty for a few days. If it gets infected in any way again, we’ll know whatever-it-is is still at large. Whilst the room is locked, I don’t want anyone to go in it. I shall keep the key on me at all times, and anyone who wants it will have to wrestle me for it”.

“Oh that will be difficult!” said Julian “A little shrimp like you! One would only have to tip you upside down and shake you!”

Bardin was ordered to rest after his demonic ordeal, and spent the day sitting regally in a wooden reclining chair up on deck, waited on by the other clowns. Bengo was in such a state that he was relieved of galley duties.

“Don’t you go getting traumatised tonight”, Adam said to Joby “Or I shall be 2 men down”.

“The only one who’s gonna traumatise me is Kieran!” said Joby “Perhaps Julian’s right, I havent’ got any balls”.

“Nonsense”, said Adam “We all know what Patsy’s like when he gets the bit between his teeth. Nothing can stop him, short of blowing him up”. “I might end up having to resort to that!” said Joby.

Ransey and Hillyard had a gentlemanly tussle at sundown about who was going to sleep on the floor of the cabin, as there wasn’t room for both of them on the narrow sofa.

“You go on the sofa”, said Hillyard, firmly “I’m more well-upholstered than you are. Go on, don’t argue, you know it makes sense”.

“OK”, said Ransey “If it makes you feel better, you can wear the trousers”.

Joby came into the room, carrying both his and Kieran’s bags.

“Who wears the trousers out of you two, Jobe?” said Hillyard.

“You should know the answer to that one by now”, said Joby “Doesn’t that annoying little git always end up getting his own way? If he was a woman I’d be henpecked! Sometimes I could throttle him, that I could!”

“Not wise to talk about throttling in this room”, said Kieran, following him in. He wore a large crucifix and a set of rosary beads over his dressing-gown.

“What DO you look like?!” said Joby “You look like a bleedin’ Catholic fetishist’s fantasy!”

“I’ll bless you all before we turn in”, said Kieran.

“Great”, grunted Joby.

He crossed over to the bunk.

“Kieran“, he said, picking up a saucepan that was lying on it “What’s this?”

“Ah now I thought you might know that one”, said Kieran “It’s a saucepan. Adam says it’s the largest and heaviest one he’s got“.

“I know that”, said Joby “I meant, what’s it doing in here?”

“It’s for bashing any demons with”, said Kieran.

“Ask a silly question I spose”, said Joby.

At around 4 in the morning, just as the first fingers of daylight were struggling through the window, Kieran felt something gently pulling at the bedclothes from the direction of the floor. He lay very still, hardly daring to breathe. In the gloomy half-light he saw a tiny pair of hands, pale and mottled like that of a corpse, creep spider-like across the coverlet. They came to a pause when they reached Kieran’s crucifix, and paused in a disconcerted way that would have been comical if the situation hadn’t been so disturbing.

As his eyes adjusted to the gloom Kieran could just make out a dark shape behind the hands, like someone cut out of black crepe paper. Going by the level of the head, this person wasn’t much more than 4 feet tall. Kieran grasped the handle of the saucepan firmly in one hand and aimed it at the head. The figure, completely caught off-guard, was felled to the floor.

“Quickly!” Kieran called out, jumping out of bed “Snare it!”

Ransey pulled the blanket he had been using off the sofa and flung it over the shape. Hillyard grabbed it as though pinioning its arms into place.

“Fuck, that smell!” he said.

“The rotten eggs smell”, said Kieran, and he suddenly grabbed at the creature’s crotch region.

“Well now we know it’s not the little old lady anyway”, he said.

“It’s disintegrating”, said Hillyrd, feeling the Thing dissolve under the blanket. Eventually he was left holding only the blanket.

“It doesn’t matter”, said Kieran “That was still a good night’s work”.

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